Afraid of the water

My mother’s house is undergoing extensive renovations. Being eighty-find she thinks it is prudent to opt to have her bedroom downstairs, so the garage has been converted into a sitting room for her and her former sitting room is being converted to a bedroom.

The work has meant moving my late father’s books, shelves of military history. As I was moving one box of books, one fell to the floor. Convoy will Scatter, the tale of the extraordinary heroism of the Jervis Bay, its captain taking it to certain destruction in an attempt to protect the merchantmen of the convoy.

Perhaps it was such stories that were part of my fear, for it is hard to fathom how the the sea became a fearful place.

Our village is at least fifteen miles away from the coast as the crow flies, and even that piece of coastline in Bridgwater Bay is more mudflats than deep water, yet the sea seemed always to be something threatening, something darkly ominous. It was not until I watched Pirates of the Caribbean as an adult that the name of Davy Jones ceased to be one that stirred a sense of danger and darkness.

Perhaps it was growing up in a time when those memories of the Second World War were still fresh, the massive loss of British ships caused by the U-boat campaign left thousands of British seamen at the bottom of the sea.

Perhaps it was stories of heroic actions such as that of the armed merchantman the Jervis Bay which protected a convoy against the German pocket battleship the Admiral Scheer that prompted fear. It might have inspired lines in school poetry books, but it was a reminder that the sea was a grave.

Perhaps it was holidays spent in small seaside towns where small boats were tied up in small harbours that prompted thoughts of how such tiny vessels coped among the waves of the sea that loomed threateningly beyond the solid stone walls.

Perhaps it was just that childhood fear that arises when realising for the first time that life ended in death and thinking that the sea was one of the places where life might end far more early than expected.

If an abiding thought about the sea remains, it is the title of Nicholas Monserrat’s book The Cruel Sea. The sea is not something to regard without there being a deep sense of fear.

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